When I set out to research “triggers” for transformations, self-exploration, and pursuit of ideal/dream job, I wasn’t sure what I would end up finding out. I knew that I was curious about what people’s triggers were for going through transitions and transformations, for entering deep self-exploration, fulfilling their life purpose or passion, and for pursuing their dream job. I was interested in seeing how beliefs, values, and certain situations or circumstances were related, or not related. And I was curious if there was a path, or certain steps that showed up consistently with those who did pursue their passions, or ended up in their dream job. My interest in these topics developed a couple years ago, when I went through my own transition and transformation; but it continues now as a professional interest, so that I can better understand my coaching clients and their journey.
The process I took for researching this topic was insightful, fun, and interesting. I conducted research through surveys of the general public, including 8 responses, as well as through related books, articles, and web research on the subject.
My goal was to find out what triggers, if any, launch people into a transition that would result in one of the following: pursuing their ideal/dream job, or transforming themselves by breaking free of social norms to live more authentically, and/or changing beliefs. I also set out to find a way to utilize this information in the field of coaching.
The survey contained open-ended questions pertaining to: major events in their life, events that altered/changed their life, life beliefs, religious views, changes to those beliefs and views, value of those beliefs in their everyday life, ideal job and whether or not they are in it currently, what has helped them get into it or prevented them from getting into it, what would change that, and also short-term and long-term goals. (A copy of the survey is attached in the addendum.)
The way I have structured this paper is to break out the triggers for transformation and self-exploration, and triggers for pursuing ideal/dream job into two sections. Supporting each of those sections, are the conditions that allow each of these transitions to happen, and how it relates and can be utilized in the practice of coaching. The reason for this structure is that while researching and understanding each type of section, and its triggers, I realized that it was important to have certain conditions in order to take action and actually go through the transition.
Because this topic is not based on scientific or concrete facts, I would like to ask that the reader go into this paper with an open mind. Each person has a different story, a different purpose, and a different set of beliefs, as well as an endless amount of variables that can impact it all at any moment. I humbly know that, even if we are certain about where and who we are, we still may not know it all. With so many different views out there, I am only able to write this paper about what I know and what others have contributed (from their points of view). I ask you, as the reader, that you keep an open mind to all possibilities and merely use this paper to reflect upon your own situation and the situations of your clients.
Triggers to launch a person into transformation and self-exploration:
In order to understand what this section is about, let me define what it means to go through a transformation or to do self-exploration. To transform is to change in condition, nature, or character; convert. Self-exploration is to openly take a look at yourself from many different angles with a curious mentality. Both of these include looking at one’s beliefs, values, actions, purpose, meaning, and lifestyle or situation. This transition is about taking a look at who you are and then making changes that could have a profound impact on one’s life. Transformations can change the relationships people have with family, friends, work, possessions, religion, groups, and outlook on life.
Transitions in this area are usually big and unexpected, and may take place over many years, as the person is learning, reflecting, and changing over and over. Triggers for a transformation are typically major events that impacted the person in a way that shifted their view on “how to live life”, such as a loss of a loved one, seeing someone close to them impacted by hardship, personally going through tragic or difficult events (like divorce, challenging living situations, hardships, etc), or having a near-death experience. In Elizabeth Lesser’s book “Broken Open”, she “shares tales of ordinary people who have risen from the ashes of illness, divorce, loss of a job or a loved one – stronger, wiser and more in touch with their purpose and passion. And she draws on the world’s great spiritual and psychological traditions to support us as we too learn to break open and blossom into who we were meant to be.”
Here is an excerpt from her book that demonstrates this concept:
A woman who came to one of my workshops after a difficult few years likened her experience to the journey described by Dante in his Inferno: ‘I came into those dark woods that Dante talks about,’ she said. ‘In a brief span of time, my husband left me, my child went to college, and my father died. Every role that defined me was lost: wife, mother, daughter, and simultaneously, my fertility. I had nothing left to lose. In that dark place I uncovered qualities I had forgotten I had. I retrieved my soul. I reinvented myself. I call it my ‘ashes to wings’ experience. It was as if I was born a second time.’ 
Not all triggers for transformation occur out of negative, or major events. Sometimes they merely come at a certain time that’s right for the person, or due to the positive circumstances that allow something new to open up inside someone. This trigger; which launches the person into self-exploration, is all about coming across information that challenges current beliefs, and causes an internal awakening of some kind. Seeing a show or documentary, reading a book, hearing new information, or having a discussion with another person can all be sources of new information that trigger self-exploration of values, purpose, and beliefs. Sometimes this can happen after moving up Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” and getting to the top level of self-actualization.
Maslow offers the following description of self-actualization:
‘It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially.
The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions’ (Maslow, 1943, p. 382–383).
What is it about these triggers that make the person go through a transformation? Here are some of the things the a person may re-evaluate or reconsider, after being affected by a trigger:
- Loss of a loved one: life is precious, short, and meant to be lived to its fullest.
- Seeing a close family member or friend impacted by hardship: Enjoy what you have because it could be taken away from you at any point.
- Personally going through a tragic or difficult event: Life is hard and can come crashing down at any point, so how can I make the most of it, and how can I overcome this?
- Having a near-death experience: Seeing or experiencing something that makes you see the world in a new light, and have a new respect for life.
- Coming across information that challenges beliefs: Makes one reflect upon their belief system with an open mind, being open to the possibilities for change. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
Transformations for the above situations cause the person to see and live life in a new way. They may change their activities, values, relationships, and where they put energy, time, and money. The result of many of these triggers leave the person wanting something very simple in life: happiness and fulfillment. When the person views life as a precious gift, it enables them to put on that lens when viewing life experiences, and make the most of them.
Conditions for making it work:
Strength, passion, persistence, and open-mindedness are essential conditions for entering and continuing to go through self-exploration or a full fledge transformation. It’s also really helpful to have a community of like-minded people to relate to and lean on for support.
Self-exploration and transformation can be scary at times, as they can put people into difficult situations as well as change things that have been all that the person knows and relies on. When it seems like everything you know is changing, and that your beliefs no longer fit, it can be confusing to know where to go, who you can turn to, and how things will end up in the end. That’s why it’s important to carry the traits or create the conditions above to support you in making it through. In “Broken Open”, Lesser described her needed condition as courage:
Indeed, it is the internal transformation that matters most. If there is one thing that has made a difference in my life, it is the courage to turn and face what wants to change within me. 3
Data based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, shares the below characteristics and behaviors as conditions for self-actualization.
Characteristics of self-actualizers:
- They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty;
- Accept themselves and others for what they are;
- Spontaneous in thought and action;
- Problem-centered (not self-centered);
- Unusual sense of humor;
- Able to look at life objectively;
- Highly creative;
- Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;
- Concerned for the welfare of humanity;
- Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;
- Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;
- Peak experiences;
- Need for privacy;
- Democratic attitudes;
- Strong moral/ethical standards.
Behavior leading to self-actualization:
(a) Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;
(b) Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;
(c) Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority;
(d) Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;
(e) Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;
(f) Taking responsibility and working hard;
(g) Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.
How it relates to coaching:
Having a coach during this process can speed the journey along and allow for a supportive ally who can create comfort through the changing process. The coach can support the client through their transformation by asking what feels right for them, and checking to see what conditions are needed by the client to help them through. A coach is someone who knows the right questions to ask to get at the deepest desires of the client, and ultimately what’s right for them. If a coach has been through this process themselves, they may bring a sense of understanding and empathy to the relationship that will support their client immensely. It’s also good to know where the clients are at in the process, to be able to support them in the right way.
Shifting the client’s perspective during challenging parts of the transformational journey is essential for keeping them positive and moving forward. An example of how to do this is to ask them to find, and/or remind the client of, the benefit of a particular hardship they have overcome. One survey respondent identified a tragedy she experienced as life-changing, and the reason for all the good in her life.
Losing both my parents when I was 5 turned me into a survivor! Everything I did and how I looked at the world, was all around surviving in it. It has driven me to be self supportive. 
As a coach, reminding her of this quote may help in moments of despair or feeling stuck. Finding the good in hard or bad situations and shifting their perspective can be a powerful tool to use as a coach.
Another way to utilize this information is in marketing, attracting, and finding clients. Knowing that these types of situations and triggers can launch a person into self-exploration or transformation, will allow the coach to have a better idea of where to find potential clients, as well as what content may attract them. Each one of the triggers above could be its own niche, attracting many clients, depending on the coaches preference. Because there is so much information for each of the triggers in regards to marketing, I won’t dive into that in this paper. My suggestion is for the coach to do a deep-dive into researching each trigger; including steps or process for going through it, where they may be researching or looking for support, and why they would be drawn to you as a coach.